Coping with Amish Family Rejection

by David Servant

I’m writing primarily to Amish-background believers who’ve faced rejection by their parents, siblings, relatives and former Amish friends. Much of what I have to say, however, applies to anyone who has suffered rejection for the sake of Christ.

Image of Amish girl pondering

I’ve titled this article “Coping with Amish Family Rejection” rather than “Overcoming Amish Family Rejection,” because I’m uncertain that anyone who has suffered rejection from those who ought to love them is able to “get over it,” at least in this life.

Although it is often said that “time heals all wounds,” wounded people know that, although the deep psychological pain of rejection may hurt less over time, it very often leaves permanent scars. Many wounded people—for good reasons and because they are good people—do their best to hide their pain. Still, they’re wounded. And how they cope affects their lives every day. For example, people who are wounded by rejection are apt to guard against being rejected again. For them, any and all relationships are risky.

As I’ve observed newly born-again Amish friends be rejected by their Amish parents, relatives and friends, I’ve marveled at their grace towards those who’ve rejected them. It is a testimony to the Holy Spirit’s transforming power. Still, I can’t imagine they aren’t hiding some hurt. I wish I could help them, and this article will be my attempt at that.

Of all people from whom we would expect love, certainly our parents would be at the top of the list. And for that reason and others, parental shunning is utterly perverse. Everyone knows that fact deep within them—including Amish parents who shun their adult children—but their mixed-up minds have mastered their hearts.

Of course, it is appropriate for parents, at times, to express their disappointment with a child, and that can even be appropriate at times with adult children (although the downside risk is much higher then). But the only proper way to express disappointment to any-age child (or just about any person for that matter) is with affirmation, love, and encouragement.

Parents, if your child’s behavior falls short of your reasonable expectation, make sure any correction, verbal or physical, is jammed full with love, beginning to end. Even to a small child whose behavior requires discipline, you can first say, “Johnny, you are a good boy, and good boys don’t act the way you just did. So I’m going to punish you to make sure you remain the good boy that you are.” That’s affirming, not demeaning. And after you administer the punishment, add some more verbal and physical affirmation. If your child is crying, hug them until they stop.

The hearts of older children—as well as all of us adult children—are no less fragile, and we all need just as much tenderness and affirmation if correction is going to have a positive, rather than a negative, result. When I think about Amish parents who tell their adult children that they are no longer welcome at any family gatherings because they’ve left the Amish, I marvel at the utter foolishness of such actions and the strangeness of the social system that motivates such madness.

Shunning is a method of coercion, that is, forcing people to do what they don’t want to do. Of course, that is what being Amish is actually all about if the truth be told. It is nothing but a system of social coercion under the guise of Christianity which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with coercion. Christianity at its core is antithetical to coercion.

I can’t think of anything more miserable than a bunch of people who all outwardly conform to rules just to prevent their loved ones from hating them! It’s like a circular firing squad, and everyone has a gun. “Don’t even think about removing yourself from our ‘circle of love,’ or else we’ll shoot you!”(If anyone ever writes a country song about Amish life, a good title might be, “Hating To Love You.”)

But I’m not writing to foolish Amish parents, and neither are they reading this. So what are the victims of attempted social coercion—followers of Christ who are being shunned by Amish family members—supposed to do? Let me tell you what I’ve admiringly observed among many ex-Amish people who are suffering family rejection. May their example inspire you as it has inspired me:

#1) Remember that the Lord once said to Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me” (1 Sam. 8:7). If you’ve been born again and your Amish family is shunning you because of it, then God’s words to Samuel certainly have application to you. More than rejecting you, they’re rejecting Jesus Christ, even if they don’t recognize it.

Jesus once similarly said to 70 of His disciples, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” ( Luke 10:16).

It can help you cope with your family’s rejection if you recognize that they are actually rejecting Jesus, of whose body you are a member. And that, of course, will help you to feel compassion for them rather than bitterness or anger. They are people who need to repent, believe in the Lord Jesus, and be born again, or they will perish. Good reason to pray for them.

And while their rejection of you is the sure evidence that they are not in Christ, it is also the sure evidence that you are in Christ. Which leads me to a second coping suggestion…

#2) Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11). Your rejection by people is proof of your acceptance by God.

Jesus told His followers that families would be divided because of Him, because some would believe and some would not:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household (Matt. 10:34-36).

So don’t be surprised that your family is divided.

Jesus continued:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:37).

Although some professing Christians think that “not being worthy of Jesus” has nothing to do with salvation, they would have a hard time explaining how that could possibly be. Did Jesus actually mean: “If you love your father, mother, son or daughter more than Me, you are not worthy of Me, but don’t worry about it, because everyone is not worthy of Me, including those who actually do love Me more than they love their family members…so it really doesn’t make any difference if you love Me more, or love Me less, than you love your family members”? That would not seem to be too likely…

Can we just be honest? In Matthew 10:37, Jesus clearly revealed that people CAN be “worthy” or “deserving” of Him. That is indisputable. And people who don’t love Him more than they love their “loved-ones” are not worthy or deserving of Him. Jesus doesn’t belong to them.

The truth is, everyone who genuinely believes that Jesus is the Son of God makes Him Lord, and they love Him supremely, more than their families. And they deserve Him. If you don’t love Jesus supremely, more than anyone else, you are not yet a Christian believer. Matthew 10:37 is very simple to understand, yet it is all but ignored by the purveyors of false grace who litter the landscape of modern Evangelicalism.

All of this being so, those who, like you, have been faced with the choice of pleasing “loved ones” or Jesus, and who choose Jesus, prove that they are worthy of Him. And that should certainly provide consolation to Amish-background believers who are being shunned by their Amish families. You’ve passed the test! You’ve proven that your faith is genuine. You are worthy of Jesus…according to Jesus! That is one “silver lining” in your “dark cloud” that can help you cope.

So, rejoice that “the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). And let your shunning family see your joy in being shunned for Christ’s sake. It might help them see the error of their way.

#3) Remember that you are a victim of people who are victims themselves. Like you, your parents were born into a system of social coercion, as were their parents. There have been generations of victims over hundreds of years. For that reason, you can have mercy on those who are shunning you, reminding yourself that, “If they knew better, they’d do better.”

Although Jesus said it would have been better if Judas had not been born, we note that He prayed for His persecutors who divided His garments because they, unlike Judas, did not “know what they were doing.” In that respect, your shunning family members are more like the Roman soldiers at Jesus’ crucifixion than they are like Judas. And worse, they think they are doing what is right and perhaps what is best for you, hoping to lure you back (into their bondage).

All of this is to say, it is easier to have mercy on family members who are shunning you if you remember that they are not entirely to blame for their sin against you. The blame also belongs to their ancestors all the way back to Jacob Amman (at least).

If you can model mercy, there is a better chance that your alleged “Christian” Amish family members who are shunning you will wake up to their error as they witness Jesus living through you. You can “do all things through Christ who strengthens you” (Phil. 4:13), and being persecuted by your own flesh and blood is an opportunity to experience not only “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings,” but also “the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).

#4) Jesus suffered the rejection of His family, so He has felt the same pain as you. He, however, found a remedy that will also work for you.

Of course, Jesus suffered rejection throughout His entire earthly ministry. John wrote, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Can you imagine being rejected by people whom you created?

Rejection was such a predominant part of Jesus’ experience that Isaiah wrote of Him hundreds of years before His incarnation:

He was despised and forsake of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face.
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Is. 53:3).

If you are in Christ, a member of His body, you will share in His sufferings. And rejection is a primary part of those sufferings. If you haven’t experienced some rejection, you should be concerned. Jesus warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).

It is one thing to be rejected by strangers and acquaintances. But that pales in comparison to being rejected by “loved-ones.” Many Christians have never realized just how much Jesus was rejected by His family. Concerning His four half-brothers (see Mark 6:3), the New Testament records, “Not even His brothers were believing in Him” (John 7:5).

Although we might be able to sympathize somewhat with the challenge of being one of Jesus’ brothers who all grew up in a family where one person never sinned—their rejection of Him is still difficult to understand. Surely they heard from their mother the supernatural circumstances that surrounded His birth. And although they were aware of His miracles (see John 7:1-4) and were likely present at His first miracle when He changed water into wine (see John 2:1-12), they still did not believe in Him. Scripture records that they encouraged Him to attend a feast in Jerusalem where they likely knew He would be endangered (John 7:1-9). Were they hoping He might be harmed? Perhaps just as Joseph of the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ, so Joseph’s jealous brothers foreshadowed Jesus’ siblings.

When Jesus visited His hometown—the backwater village of Nazareth and a place where everyone knew Him, His earthly father, mother, half-brothers, and half-sisters—the residents tried to kill Him by throwing Him over a cliff (Matt. 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30). Being hated by your hometown friends would be bad enough, but it is VERY possible that some or all of the members of Jesus’ own family heard Him preach in Nazareth’s synagogue that day and even participated in the attempt to kill Him.

There is no indication in the New Testament that any of Jesus’ half-brothers, with the exception of James (Gal. 1:19), ever believed in Him. (Some also think Jude.) And the fact that Jesus, during His crucifixion, entrusted His mother Mary into the care of His disciple John (John 19: 25-27) makes us wonder if His half-brothers had rejected her because of her faith in Him.

How did Jesus cope with such painful rejection by His own family? We can find a clue in Mark 3:

And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people [or “kinsman”] heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses”.

Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35).

Jesus identified with a new family, one that accepted and received Him. And that is just what we should do when we suffer rejection by our families. Just as with Jesus, our new family consists of all those who “do the will of God.” Those are all TRUE believers in Jesus, His “sheep” (not the goats). Christians, by New Testament definition, are those who strive to follow and obey Jesus. Those who don’t aren’t actual believers.

When we are born again, we become instant members of God’s great big family, with Him being our spiritual Father, Jesus being our oldest brother, and with many other brothers and sisters all over the world. That is why we soon discover that we actually prefer, if given the chance, to spend time with our spiritual family more than our physical family (if our physical family members are not yet born again).

This is also why Jesus promised: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in this present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Although we may not all literally leave our families in order to take the gospel to far-away places, we all, in a sense, leave our families when we decide to follow Christ against our family’s wishes.

Of course, when Jesus promised the blessing of many “brothers and sisters and mothers and children,” He wasn’t talking about attending one-hour church services once a week to look at the backs of other people’s heads in the pew in front of you. He was talking about the kind of close relationships that true born-again believers continually enjoy with each other. It is truly a little taste of heaven, the “fellowship [Greek: koinonia] of the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1).

If you don’t have that, “seek and you will find” (Matt. 7:7), and it will go a long way towards mitigating the pain of your family’s rejection. In fact, if you do, your Amish family might even become jealous, which would be a good thing (Rom. 11:13-14) if it helps them realize that you are being blessed in spite of their efforts to make you miserable and bring you back into their darkness!

Hope I’ve helped you! — David